April 19, 2009

Lucas County (OH) Sheriff Indicted; Toledo and OH Media Almost Never Name His Party

JamesTelbTheBlade0409.jpgOn April 14, The Toledo Blade, apparently having temporarily misplaced the comma key, reported that “Longtime Lucas County Sheriff James Telb and a top commander and two former deputies were indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday on charges related to the 2004 death of an inmate at the jail” (HT to Maggie Thurber in an e-mail).

The Blade, which likes to brag about the over 1,000 articles (I’m not kidding) it carried about Republican Tom Noe’s coin-dealing losses and related matters several years ago, nearly all of which reminded readers of Noe’s GOP affiliation, “somehow” forgot to tell readers that Sheriff Telb is a Democrat (scroll down to list of “Uncontested Races” at link”).

The Blade’s blind spot on Sheriff Telb’s party has been on display frequently since then. Telb’s party affiliation is nowhere to be found in these other Blade reports:

  • April 15 — “Lucas County Sheriff, 3 others accused of 2004 jail death cover-up”
  • April 16 — “Lucas County Sheriff deputies beat inmate to death, witness says”
  • April 15 — “Justice Department contradicts coroner’s ruling” (The Blade did not identify the party of Coroner James Patrick, who is also a Democrat).
  • April 15 — “County lockup has experienced its share of problems”
  • April 16 — “Prosecutor gave case to feds because probe named sheriff” (The Blade did not identify the party of Prosecutor Julia Bates, who is also a Democrat)
  • April 17 — “Record says ex-officer faced choking, lying claims before”

The only recent Blade article I could find that mentioned Telb’s party is one from April 15 that chronicled his career. The misleadingly headlined “Few candidates ran against Telb after his original election” contains some items that, if Telb’s party membership was other than Democrat, would have led to a very different headline at the highly partisan Blade — something on the order of “Telb no stranger to controversy.” Some of the nuggets include a direct contradiction of the story’s headline, campaign dirty tricks, and double-dipping :

….. His most serious challenges came in a three-way 2004 race. He was taken on by two former proteges, Tom Gulch, the former Oregon police chief and Toledo police officer who ran as a Republican, and Dan Contreras, a former sheriff’s captain who ran as an independent.

His opponents alleged such problems in the sheriff’s office as poor record-keeping, security breaches, low employee morale, and lack of training. They highlighted an incident in 2003 in which a gun was smuggled into the jail.

….. Sheriff Telb was further criticized when an off-duty sheriff’s deputy was arrested by Toledo police, accused of stealing campaign signs belonging to Mr. Gulch and Mr. Contreras.

….. He retired in September, 2000, so he could claim an $80,000 annual pension from his service at UT (University of Toledo) and as sheriff. He was re-elected without opposition Nov. 7, 2000. Two days later, county commissioners reappointed him until his new term could begin Jan. 1.

There’s also a hint that Telb’s kid-glove treatment by the Blade is for reasons beyond what the holier-than-thou Blade will tell us (bold is mine):

In 1992, Toledo police investigated whether Sheriff Telb fired gunshots into the air after a motorist hit his car downtown as he was returning from The Blade’s postelection party.

Wow. Do winning candidates ordinarily visit the newspapers which endorsed them on election night? They’re not too worried about the appearance of impropriety in the Glass City, are they?

The party ID failure in coverage of Sheriff Telb’s troubles is also rampant at other news sources:

  • Toledo’s Channel 24′s brief indictment story is party ID-free.
  • So is a longer report in Saturday’s Columbus Dispatch (“Sheriff’s charge is latest jail problem; Alleged cover-up in death follows inmate beatings, shocking escapes”; HT to an e-mailer).
  • Finally, as if there was a reason to even wonder about this, the Associated Press failed to identify Telb as a Democrat here, here, here, and here.

It also happens that the large majority of sheriffs in the Buckeye State are Republicans, and that many state residents tend to assume that even the sheriffs of heavily Democratic counties are GOP members. Such is in the case (correlating this list of November 2008 candidates with this list from the Buckeye Sheriffs Association) in Summit (Akron), Montgomery (Dayton), and going-blue Hamilton (Cincinnati) Counties. I would suggest that one reason Sheriff Telb’s Democratic identity has been almost completely muted might be that the reporters at the Blade and other Ohio establishment media outlets believe that most readers outside Lucas County will assume that he is a Republican.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.



  1. I can’t disagree with you that at times the media doesn’t share the political party of the person reported on. At least here locally in our defense, very few people are not aware of the fact that most of our elected county officials are Democrats and that Telb is a lifelong Democrat. As well as the prosecutor and the coroner who also play some role in this case though they have not been indicted.

    I didn’t mention his party affiliation when I blogged about the breaking news aspect of it either, it’s easy to forget that some outside of Lucas County might not realize that this is a pretty well established Democratic stronghold, with the exception of some of the smaller suburban cities. Which doesn’t excuse why media sources outside of the area wouldn’t include that, but could shed a little light as to why none of our local media coverage mentioned that Telb is a Democrat. In fact, the only officials elected at the County level that are Republicans are judges, all of the rest are Democrats. Auditor, Treasurer, Coroner, Sheriff, Prosecutor, Commissioners, Clerk of Courts, Recorder, Engineer – All Democrats.

    Comment by LisaRenee — April 19, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

  2. #1, Hi LisaRenee, thx for coming by. Wanted to respond earlier, but life intervened.

    I certainly have no problem with GCJ’s handling of Telb as you’re obviously there as is much (but far from all) of your audience.

    I do have a problem with the Blade somehow getting through all but a background piece without bringing Telb’s party up, esp given some of his past controversies, including double-dipping and the contentious ’04 election. And it’s a real pet peeve that the Associated Press, which obviously goes statewide or further, avoids calling out Dems’ party IDs and almost always manages to mention the party of GOPers in trouble in the headline and/or 1st/2nd sentence.

    Comment by TBlumer — April 19, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

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